May 11

The Rules for Being Funny… or Serious

CryingAndSmilingMasksHere it is in a nutshell: There are no rules. I’m sorry if you expected more than that, but anyone who professes to know a one-size-fits-all definition for each band of the humor spectrum is lying or misguided at best. It is usually a matter of situation and timing for something to be found funny. In company reorganizations we can refer to misguided efforts as “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” but there was a time that nothing about the Titanic was remotely funny. The late comedian Steve Allen was quoted as saying, “I guess you can make a mathematical formula out of it. Tragedy plus time equals comedy.”

Somewhere between being a humorless stick-in-the-mud and a circus clown is that sliding scale of appropriateness. When we hire people into an organization and talk about the best cultural fit, it is never 100% Brooks Brothers or 100% Ringling Brothers. Our youth oriented culture emphasizes the “having fun” part of our work life, but at some point most people grow beyond that. Could there be a cause and effect relationship between positioning a company as “cool” and the reason that new grads soon become disillusioned and look for other jobs? Last week in the news it was reported that roughly 14% of Zappos hires have decided that their jobs were not fun anymore and opted for the buyout bonus. Is Holacracy really just a way to say Hello to Crazy in Spanish? Now that’s funny!

At the risk of being a liar or misguided (by my own definition) maybe there can be a few common sense guidelines for counterbalancing gravity with levity.

  • Rationality – Awareness of self is the key to honing the impression we make on others. It is impossible to always hear ourselves as other hear us, but we can “feel” our own presence, deliberately find out who we are, and maintain our sanity. According to Kurt Vonnegut, “Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning to do afterward.”
  • Healing – Patching broken feelings and bodies always finds humor as a good medicine. Erma Bombeck wrote, “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.” The trick is listening to the environment and training our intuition to find that thin line. It is only by trial, error, and sometimes apologies that we fine tune our sense of line drawing.
  • Speaking – Mark Twain was a humorist and a philosopher as well as an author. According to Twain, “It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” Whether it is a company training exercise, a speech to stockholders, a graduation speech, or a sermon in church, the attention grabbing introduction is often made humorous to offset the flow of more serious information to follow.
  • Surviving – Coping with the stresses of daily life is easier when we use humor to polish the rough edges off of a bad situation. Ironically, Bill Cosby once said, “Through humor you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it.” I would hope that he is using his genius for comedy for his own life troubles.

This really should be an ongoing thought process rather than a one shot look at how humorous or how serious we need to be in any given situation. Looking to science, psychotherapist and author Maud Purcell advised to “humor up” your work environment by bringing kids toys to work and keeping them within reach. “That irate customer on the phone will have no idea that you are keeping your cool by playing with a Slinky.” Technology has erased traditional boundaries of our workplace and we now interact with a broader universe through social media. Delight your family, friends, coworkers and the public at large by sprinkling humorous things in your timeline on Facebook and Twitter. My bet is that it will put you in a better place personally, socially, and professionally than dry data or contentious crap.

Image Copyright: stocksnapper / 123RF Stock Photo

Mar 30

The Missing Dash

It has been said that a person’s tombstone marks three things: the beginning of life, the end of life, and a dash to represent everything in between. As we go through life cramming as much as we can into our dash, other people have dashes that cross over into ours as well. Regardless of the length of our dash, we can always assign a value to each data point in it. After all, isn’t a dash just a line composed of an infinite number of individual points?

March 30, 2005 marked the day of the beginning of one of the most significant lives that has ever crossed my own dash. The resting place for Rachael’s marker doesn’t have a visible dash because she left this world on the same day she arrived. The firstborn of my daughter and son-in-law was born with a condition known as Trisomy-18 with a life expectancy that could be only a few years or a few minutes. Heartbroken, our family dealt with this loss and tried to find some understanding of this tragedy. We hold life to be precious and need to find some meaning in the things that seem to happen without reason.

As we had waited for this birth everyone knew that the prognosis was not good, but hope was alive and some who had forgotten how to pray remembered during that time. It was not to be. The tiny heart that had beat so strongly for nine months and one week stopped that day. Does that mean that her life really has a missing dash? Rachael was a very special soul even though she never grew to talk, run, play, or laugh. She has touched more lives than some people who muddle through their much longer dashes. She inspires everyone to reflect on the true meaning of life and to dedicate themselves to some positive endeavor in her memory.

It may be difficult for others to understand, but that day was a turning point for me. Oh, I never really thought it was all about me and I could not even imagine the grief of a mother and father losing a child. But, as Rachael entered my own dash she changed my life forever. Her life had meaning. For months I had prayed that she be allowed to live and that my life be taken instead. I’m still here, so maybe my life has meaning too. Maybe we all should be more aware of the impact of our dash on others as we go about living and working.

Go forth and be dashful today!

 

Rachael Nicole Martin

Dec 22

Who Needs Social Media?

It's only a tool if you use it.

It’s only a tool if you use it.

Before you answer that question too quickly with your typical knee-jerk reaction, think about how you formed that opinion. Is it based on facts or are you blindly following suggestions planted by faux experts of the online realm. Do we accept it as a true need because of our incessant need to feed our personal addiction or deny its importance because of some subconscious aversion to technological change? Like most tools its use is situational. Anyone who has ever stripped the head off of an overtorqued screw needs the “Speedout Damaged Screw Extractor” set in their toolbox. If you don’t screw up, then its need is not quite so apparent. Seeing social media as just one tool to get things done can give us perspective if we are not blinded by the shimmer of glowing technology.

The true answer to this question is “Nobody!” It is hard to argue that it is as significant as oxygen to our survival, but it really depends on how broad you consider the definition of the word “need?” As a verb, to need something means that it is essential or at the very least extremely important. As a noun it implies something that is necessary or deserving of immediate action. The importance of needing or having needs seems to feed some sort of human drive to neatly arrange everything into some stair-step model that makes it easy to visualize complex ideas. In our minds we organize needs into distinct buckets ranging from the least to the most important. Where would you put social media in Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs? Ah, there is the real basis of the question. How do you differentiate a want from a need?

Most social media tools are psychologically addictive. When you honestly believe this as a possibility and look into the research you will see conflicting scientific viewpoints, but also find other significant evidence that it can be harmful. Bringing the relativity of a situation into clearer focus gives a clue into why that happens. People who are uncomfortable directly approaching other people face-to-face or cold-calling to expand networking connections will find comfort in an online hideout where an immediate response can be delayed forever. The same lure of passive job board applications gives a feeling of doing something when actually nothing is happening. When more socially adept people do the same thing it is only the beginning of personal connections that will grow other connections. In one instance it is planting seeds that will never grow and on another it is cultivating a harvest that will bring rich rewards.

Recruiters and their managers often engage in arguments about using social and other electronic media to source, recruit, and hire talent. When you take a Google-Earthish viewpoint and look at these discussions from a broader perspective, it becomes evident that nobody is communicating. Taking a microscopic view of any situation and using occasional positive results as proof of concept is totally illogical. Sowing a millions seeds and hiring X number of people is no more significant than cultivating fewer seeds and hiring X number of people. Every situation is different and there is no school solution as to the correct methodology. It is a matter of choice and it doesn’t mean that if it works it is “the” way or any guarantee that it will work for someone else.

When we give job seekers advice that they need to use social media tools, are we helping or hurting their situation? Once again, it depends. Many people who are unemployed tend to experience forms of psychological and social losses which include diminished social contacts. Social media helps them maintain relationships, but studies1 of unemployed people show mixed results. Although they can use social media to cultivate their social support networks the opportunity to establish new contacts is often underutilized. The social network differentiation between the unemployed and employed is the same online in social media. This does not mean that it is a useless exercise for job seekers. New studies2 show changes to the data from 1998-2001 surveys and show that unemployed persons who look for work online are re-employed about 25% faster than comparable workers who do not search online. Internet job search including social media appears to be most effective in reducing unemployment durations when used to contact friends and relatives, to send out resumes or fill out applications and also to look at advertisements.

What are your expectations and will your social media plan realistically get you to your goals. Most people will probably find that it must be leveraged with other tools for the best impact. Neither side of these arguments can be colored as absolutely right or wrong. The areas between those opinions are also not necessarily gray. There is a rainbow of situational solutions. Observers of the ongoing dialog will also have to endure pretentious elitism toward use social media and technology as the only possible solution.

Image credit: Courtesy Leute Management Services, LLC original photo

1 A social net? Internet and social media use during unemployment, Work, Employment & Society August 201428: 551-570, first published on June 3, 2014

2 Is Internet Job Search Still Ineffective?, Kuhn, P. and Mansour, H. (2014), The Economic Journal, 124: 1213–1233.

Jul 18

When is a job not a job?

“If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.” – George Bernard Shaw

Recently I acted on emotions rather than logic because of a hard lesson that was taught to me years ago. Last week I publicly confronted a job spammer on LinkedIn. I should have known better. Showing someone the error of their ways never works if they are as despicable as I suspected this liar to be. It is like blowing your horn at a reckless driver… they don’t learn and you look like a jerk. The temptation to react rather than to respond intelligently comes from somewhere deep inside where the bad things live. Here is the story of the events that planted that seed of angst.

Without going into a total opening of the kimono, I returned from Vietnam in one piece and managed to maintain a bit of sanity through it all. War does that. It puts a lot of unspoken things into perspective and a bit of forced premature maturity doesn’t hurt either. Opening my mind to anything and everything, struggling to find a future course for my life, some decisions looked bright and shiny because the brand polishers had been at work hiding the flaws of some opportunities. Enter the Holiday Magic Business… stage left.

Holiday Magic was the brain child of William Penn Patrick, a failed serial entrepreneur who bought out a struggling manufacturer of home care products and cosmetics, Zolene, and its entire inventory for under $20,000. A student of Alexander Everett, the founder of Mind Dynamics, Patrick used these methods and also the Silva Mind Control Method to recruit and train an almost cult-like following using the mantra that anybody could become rich. He used legitimate lessons from authors like Napoleon Hill whose book “Think and Grow Rich” was almost a bible. Military psychological ops techniques were not as insidious as this group and its leaders. Enter me… stage right.

Called Multi-Level Marketing, or MLM, this form of business takes legitimate products and offers “opportunities” to sell the products at a small mark-up… obviously a larger margin to the company from which these distributors had to order their inventory. The real money was supposedly not from direct sales, but the further recruitment of other distributorships where a portion of those sales also went to the person recruiting the newbies. This became to be known as a “pyramid” because of the totally illogical premise that everybody can make something from the enterprise. Obviously, if you do the math, only the ones at the top win and everybody else loses.

Fortunately, I was too busy to devote the time necessary to build my “distributorship” even though it was preached over and over again that this was a job anybody could do in their spare time. After all, don’t millionaires just sit back and count their money while everybody else does the work for them? I didn’t buy that philosophy then and saw through the scam before getting in too deeply. The best thing I learned from this experience was that some people are not as honest as I hoped to be, but also that they couldn’t convince me to join them in doing something dishonest. I could hear my father’s voice telling me as a child, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably isn’t!”

So rather than confronting the job spammers last week, an action accomplishing nothing, what is the best action to take? How about writing a blog post to let others know? Ta daaa! In assisting job seekers in their search for legitimate opportunities it is important for someone to sound the alarm that opportunity may only knock once, but everything that knocks is not necessarily an opportunity. This is why it is also very important for recruiters and employers to be involved in building trust… with their customers, with their employees, and with candidates for hire. Trust can be given, but it cannot be assumed to be free. Trust must be earned after a brief period of simple risk assessment allows it to happen.

So don’t learn from my lesson or because I tell you that there are scams out there. Learn from the history:

After a ten year run, led by a charismatic leader in William Penn Patrick, that leader met his untimely end in a tragic plane crash. Following his death, it was less than a year until his company also died. The company’s CEO and President Roland Nocera pleaded guilty to securities fraud unrelated to Holiday Magic. Larry Huff, another leader in the company, served two years in federal prison for a Ponzi scheme. These were the esteemed characters in charge of dispensing Mind Dynamics over their converts! A class action settlement against the company awarded $2.6 million and the company was dissolved. A lot of lawyers got very rich, but most of the rank and file “investors” lost much more than money. Confidence is an investment that is hard to repay. This case is cited as the classic example of pyramid schemes in graduate level courses on criminal justice and in law journals.

Some additional reading:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multi-level_marketing

http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/35744

http://www.businessinsider.com/5-signs-that-mlm-opportunity-might-be-a-scam-2013-1

http://homebusiness.about.com/od/workathomescams/a/Signs-It-Is-An-Mlm-Scam.htm

“History repeats itself, and that’s one of the things that’s wrong with history.” – Clarence Darrow

Image Credit: Copyright ijacky / 123RF Stock Photo

Apr 04

Talent Wars – The Talent Strikes Back

A few years ago I wrote a series of articles for job seekers based on The Art of War by Sun Tzu. There have been numerous analogies comparing warfare to business practices, but this week, prompted by a NY Times Op-Ed piece, my colleagues and I engaged in a dialog about whether or not the perceived “skills gap” is a reality and how the “war for talent” is progressing for the long term unemployed. I have long been of the opinion that the so-called gap in skills is based on myth rather than actual research. The resulting war for talent is often a rationalization of the reality that it is sometimes tough to find the right talent or skills for a job. Get over yourselves! It this were easy anybody could do it, so step up to the plate and be a professional. 

To job seekers, don’t even enter this debate without considering the risk of sounding like you are making excuses for your lack of accomplishment. If it isn’t a war, treat it as if it is an all or nothing battle or you will never win. The best defense is a good offense and not a pile of lame reasons why you can’t do it. Yes it’s hard to find a job. If it were easy anybody could do it, so step up to the mound and pitch your best. 

How do we tackle the problem of the long term unemployed? Discussions on this topic are often laced with politics and that only serves to polarize the issue and keep solutions from surfacing. It is not about government. It is not about business. It is not about job seekers. It is a partnership of all three looking without prejudice at alternatives and doing something.

Job seekers, prepare yourself for battle! 

 

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